The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1946 Page 1 of 2

Dangerous Crossing

With dignity, I continued across the intersection, dragging them with me, and Jim followed with a little girl and boy.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 5, 1946.

“The world,” insisted Jimmie Frise, “is getting better.”

“I can see no signs of it,” I asserted.

“It’s getting better and better all the time.” declared Jim. “Better and better for ever larger numbers of people in ever wider areas of the world’s surface.”

“Aw,” I protested, “you mean India and China and Africa and such…”

“Certainly,” said Jim sharply. “Why not? Do you mean the world just around you? Maybe it isn’t so comfortable right in your own immediate circle.”

“How can I judge the world,” I demanded, “except from where I sit?”

“From where we sit,” smiled Jimmie, “is where most of us are judging the world these days.”

“Back in the good old days,” I complained, “we didn’t know about the rest of the world. Occasionally, some missionary would come home from China or Africa and preach to us about the tragic way of life of all those teeming millions. So we gave a dollar to the missionary fund.”

“Conscience,” agreed Jim, “was cheap a few years ago. But nowadays, with the movies and radio and everything, there is no escape for us.”

“Not to mention,” I added, “that millions of British, American and Canadian boys have been in those far parts of the earth – India, China, Africa – and are apt to have formed some opinion.”

“Public opinion,” submitted Jim, “was easy to manage, 20, 30 years ago. Nobody knew anything but what they were told.”

“And now,” I confessed, “when a politician gets up and tries to steer the mob his way, 20 or 50 or 100 young guys who have been in China or India or Africa can get up in the audience and slaughter him with a few words.”

“It isn’t going to be easy to be a politician from now on,” gloated Jim cheerfully. “Too much food for thought lying around everywhere. Newspapers, feature magazines, radio, movies. And too many people eating it.”

“Eating what?” I inquired.

“Food,” said Jim, “for thought.”

“Do you think,” I asked, “that if more people start thinking, the world will get better?”

“Maybe not for us comfortable people,” explained Jim, “who have been doing the thinking in the past.”

“Does thinking make us comfortable?” I parried.

Mental Indigestion

“Thinking,” elucidated Jim, “is merely masticating or chewing food for thought. If you don’t give the people anything to think about, they don’t think. Back 50 years, when only a selected few were allowed to go forward with their education as far as the end of high school, much less the university, only a selected few were given any food for thought. There were no modern newspapers and magazines. No movies, no radio. The serious theatre was expensive and largely designed for that same selected few who had already been supplied, by education, with food for thought. But look at the world now! Education is becoming compulsory. Forced feeding. Whether the young people of today have any appetite for food for thought or not, they are stuffed with it by force. And modern publishing, movies and radio are furiously competing in cooking the food for thought in attractive forms and serving it up in an appetizing way.”

“Darn you and your metaphors,” I groaned.

“I don’t suggest all these millions,” went on Jim, “are going to think straight. But they are going to think. You can’t shove food for thought into the mouths of millions without them chewing it.”

“It’s a horrible simile,” I protested, “Everybody, will have indigestion. Mental indigestion.”

“Maybe, maybe,” agreed Jim cheerfully. “But which is worse? Starving? Or indigestion?”

“In the past, Jim,” I presented, “the people who went ahead eating food for thought were those with the appetite for food for thought.”

“I think,” mused Jim, “that everybody is born with the appetite in some measure. But the way we have had the world organized, the appetite was killed in early life for the vast majority of human beings.”

“But not any more?” I queried.

“Not any more,” said Jim.

Jim drove the car slowly homeward. It was only mid-afternoon, but we had a caulking job to do at Jim’s house. We were going to go all over his downstairs window frames which, over the years, had shrunk somewhat, leaving wind cracks for winter.

“It’s a sort of cafeteria,” he suggested. “And even compulsory education is getting into line with publishers, book, newspaper and magazine, the movies, the radio and all the other distributors of food for thought, so as to make the cafeteria presentation as attractive as possible.”

“Jim,” I suggested, “in the past, when only a comparatively few people were equipped for thinking, what did they devote their thinking to?”

“Okay, what?” asked Jim guardedly.

“They devoted their thinking,” I stated, “to how to get out of doing work. They devoted their thinking to how to get others, who didn’t think, to do their work for them, and make a profit.”

“Now, now,” laughed Jimmie.

“It’s a fact,” I cried. “That’s all thinking really amounts to. How to escape working for somebody else.”

“Well …” said Jim, puzzled.

“And if we equip everybody in the world to think,” I demanded, “then what happens?”

“Well …” floundered Jimmie.

Suddenly he tramped on the brakes and steered the car sharply towards the curb. We were just approaching a big public school. Not a soul was to be seen about it, except a middle-aged man wearing a white cap and white cross bands of canvas over his chest, who was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands.

“I’ll Handle The Traffic”

“Something wrong here,” muttered Jim.

“He’s the guy who ushers the kids across the intersection when school’s out,” I said.

“I know, but look at him,” said Jim, as we bailed out.

“Hi,” said Jim.

The man turned a gray face up to us.

“Sorry,” he said. “I had a bad turn there for a minute …”

“Are you all right?” asked Jim. “Can we run you home? Or to a doctor, maybe?”

“No, no, I’ll be all right,” said the old boy, trying to struggle up. But his knees gave way under him.

“Say, look,” cried Jim, putting his arm around the old chap. “Let’s run you home, eh?”

“No, no,” he said thickly. “The children will be out in a minute …”

I looked at my watch. It was 3.15.

“They won’t be out,” I assured him, “for 15 minutes. Look, we can take you home, and my friend and I …”

“Hey!” interrupted Jim sharply and gave me a fierce look.

“We can call the police station,” I corrected, “and they’ll …”

“There’s no time,” moaned the old boy, weaving in some sort of anguish. “There’s no time to get a substitute.”

“Then,” I stated firmly, glaring straight at Jim, “you give me your hat and cross belt, mister, and while my friend drives you home or to your doctor, I’ll handle the traffic…”

The old fellow clutched his stomach and looked up at me eagerly.

“Would you?” he gasped. “Would you do that? It’s a grave responsibility. All those little children …”

Jim shook his head at me with an expression of disgust on his face.

“Certainly I will,” I assured the old boy kindly. “Think nothing of it. It is a duty any citizen…”

“It would be terrible,” groaned the old man. “All the teachers will think I’m on the job. Nobody will be watching. They’ll stream across … the smallest ones are the worst.”

He was unfastening his cross belts. He handed me his white cap, and a round fanlike sign with “Stop” printed on it. Jim assisted the old chap to his feet and led him to the car.

“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” he told me.

I stood near the school-yard gate, holding the cross belt, cap and stop sign behind me; and planned my strategy. Traffic was typical 3.30 traffic – delivery trucks in charge of slouching boys whizzing past; middle-aged ladies out on their afternoon jaunts, gripping their steering wheels with fixed expressions; trucks, oil tankers, business men busily chewing the fat with their fellow passengers and not looking at the street at all.

Children – Millions of them!

As I watched the traffic in this pleasant residential neighborhood. I suddenly became conscious of its menace. I had never noticed that menace before. Highway traffic has menace. Downtown traffic has menace. But does menace come away up into these nice residential regions?

A small scarlet delivery truck in the hands of a surly youth of about 17 suddenly careened around the corner of the school. His tires screeched. My outraged glare he countered with a lazy sneer and waft of his hand. Down the street came four passenger cars in a row, and behind them a giant truck with trailer. As the parade neared the school, the truck slewed out of line, roared its engine and by-passed the passenger cars.

I looked at my watch. It was 3.26. Four minutes!

To me, it seemed as if traffic suddenly exploded. Cars, trucks, lorries, vans, motorcycles appeared from north, south, east and west.

Two minutes!

I cautiously started to strap on the white cross belt.

One minute!

Glancing around, I tried the white cap on. It didn’t fit. It perched on the top of my hair. Suddenly. I hear bells ringing in the school. And instantly. I could FEEL the school burst into a thousand little lives. At which instant, I heard a particularly fierce screech of tires on the pavement, and there was Jimmie bounding out to my aid.

I had no time to ask him how the old boy was. Already the school doors had swung wide and out poured the children, millions and millions of them. All yelling, all screaming, all darting in every direction like darning needles, butterflies and ants.

“We’re fools!” gasped Jim, as he helped lash the cross belt on me. “Fools! Talk about thinking!”

“Thinking!” I grated. “What this world needs is action, and not so…”

But the horde was already streaming past us. Jim leaped to the gate. I ran to the corner, holding the white cap with one hand and waying the stop sign with the other.

“Stand fast, everybody!” I bellowed in the most authoritative manner, holding the stop sign as high as possible.

A Rabble of Ruffians

A rugby ball took me fair on the back of the head and knocked my cap off.

“Here, GIVE me that football,” I yelled amid the screaming, screeching and din.

“Hey never mind that,” came Jim’s voice bellowing above the tumult.

Cars whizzed, children screeched, trucks groaned, lorries hooted, cars tooted, motorcycles machine-gunned, bicycles swerved and the whole earth seemed a madhouse of racing, gyrating, tumbling, dancing, jumping children of all ages.

“Steady!” came Jim’s voice in my ear.

I held the stop sign to the fullest extent of my arm high over my head. I held my other arm extended. Then I proceeded to walk slowly and with dignity across the intersection. A rabble formed about me, swarmed ahead of me. The football came sailing from nowhere and knocked the stop sign out of my hand. I made a wild leap and caught the ball AND the stop sign in one stoop.

Car horns tooted from all four points of the compass. I was tackled by three young ruffians. With dignity, I continued across the intersection, dragging them with me. Jim followed, holding a little boy and a little girl by the hand.

But 1,249 other children went north, east, west and south, regardless. And when I reached the far corner, 19 young hoodlums tackled me and downed me on a doctor’s lawn. There they played bags on the mill with me until Jim finally got them off.

By which time, the traffic jam had untangled itself, most of the children had gone the way they wanted to go, nobody had been killed, and my services were no longer required.

I walked across and sat on the curb in the exact spot the old man had been sitting when we found him. I too, put my head in my hands. Jim stood over me.

“You see,” he said, “thinking is not enough. You have to reflect. You have to weigh and ponder.”

Three lady teachers came out of the school and walked over to us.

“You might have caused a disaster,” scolded the eldest. “We were watching from the window. Who appointed you to this corner?”

“He appointed himself,” explained Jim. “The regular crossing guard was taken ill and I drove him home while my friend here undertook to take over the duties …”

“You should know better,” said the same lady, “To be a school crossing guard calls for a very special talent.”

“Which my friend hasn’t got,” added Jim.

He helped me to my feet. We undid the white crossbelts off me, and retrieved the white cap and the stop sign from the doctor’s lawn across the street. And we drove around to the regular incumbent’s house and returned his property.

“He’s in bed,” said his wife at the door. “I’ve given him a nice hot drink. He’ll be all right.”

So Jim drove me home and we too revived ourselves with nice hot drinks.


Editor’s Note: I’m not quite sure what “they played bags on the mill with me”, means, but from what I can tell, it just might mean piling up on top of each other.

All Aboard!

July 27, 1946

Garden Chef

“Fire,” yelled the neighbor, leaping up and heading out the drive…. The steaks were just ready to turn.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 27, 1946.

“A Surprise?” inquired Jimmie Frise.

“Yes, sir, a real surprise.” I assured him heartily, as I unwrapped the bundles.

“Well, it will take something to surprise me,” sighed Jim gloomily. “This summer bachelor stuff is all right when you are young. But when you get to be our age, I don’t think a man should be abandoned alone in the city by his family.”

“We’ll get along all right,” I asserted, as I drew from the larger carton the upper works of the charcoal garden barbecue outfit.

“What the heck’s that?” demanded Jim.

“You’ll see in a minute,” I gloated.

“What gets me about this summer bachelor business,” went on Jim grumpily, “is the eating. When you are in your thirties you can eat at any old neighborhood restaurant, Chinese, Greek, or just nice old ladies running a neighborhood Tea Shoppey.”

I lifted from the carton the legs and substructure of the charcoal garden grill.

“What IS this?” insisted Jim, leaning out from his garden chair and inspecting the black tin objects.

“Go ahead, go ahead,” I suggested. “Tell around at the neighborhood quick-and dirties.”

“Well, I was saying,” said Jim, still inspecting what I was pulling out of the carton with mystified interest, “I don’t think men of our age are supposed to be left alone in the city during the summer. We need to be taken care of. We ought to be properly fed…”

I drew triumphantly from the carton the wire grill, the broiler part of the garden barbecue outfit.

“Holy smoke,” cried Jim, leaping up. “What have you got here?”

I hastily set the legs into the charcoal stove part of the outfit and then laid the heavy steel wire grill on top of all.

“Jim,” I announced, “it’s a charcoal broiler, a charcoal barbecue for the garden. I’ve been reading all about them in those home and garden magazines. So I got one.”

“What do you do with it?” asked Jim expectantly.

“Look,” I said, “We fill this deep pan with charcoal. See the little draught holes underneath and along the sides? Well, we get a red hot bed of charcoal in that. Then we lay two beautiful thick juicy steaks on top. And then…”

“Enough, enough!” cried Jim. “When? When do we try it out?”

“Now,” I stated, “This very minute. In the house I’ve got a bag of charcoal. In the house I’ve got two of the slickest big porterhouse steaks with the tails cut off. In one hour from now…”

“Hey, let’s get going,” exclaimed Jimmie, drooling. “How do we fasten that thing together, solidly…”

“Now, just a second, son,” I cautioned him. “We’ve got lots of time. Run in to the top kitchen drawer and get a pair of pliers and a screw driver.”

A Bit of Ceremony

So, in a matter of 10 minutes, we had the barbecue broiler fastened securely together. In another 10 minutes, we had the card table out. In another 10 minutes, I had opened the next parcel, which contained a chef’s hat and white pants.

“What’s all this!” protested Jim anxiously.

“Now, Jim,” I reasoned, “don’t get into such a fuss. This garden cookery is an art. I read all about it in the magazines. You’ve got to dress the part. You’ve got to make a bit of a ceremony out of it…”

“Aw, ceremony,” growled Jim. “If you knew how hungry I am. If you knew how I feel about those two steaks. How thick are they?”

“Look, relax,” I pleaded. “Sit down in that chair there. Relax. This is my party. This is my surprise.”

“How thick?” repeated Jim.

“Two … inches … thick!” I said slowly.

“And what else is there?” demanded Jim, relaxing heavily into the garden chair.

“Salad,” I said, “I bought a ready-made green salad and it’s in there, in the kitchen, in the covered pot, to keep it crisp. And there’s coffee.”

“No bread?” said Jim.

“You’ll have no room for bread when you face that steak,” I informed him, as I put on the white pants and the chef’s hat. From behind the kitchen door, I got one of the family aprons.

“Get the fire on, get the fire on,” muttered Jim in the chair.

“Look, the evening has just begun,” I said. “Relax and watch. The magazine laid emphasis on the fact that eating a charcoal broiled steak in the garden was a pleasure for all. It was a pleasure for the host -that’s me – to prepare it. It was a pleasure for the guests to watch it. That’s you.”

At which moment, our neighbor, with his newspaper, came out with that sort of burping manner that a summer bachelor adopts after he has just eaten a measly supper of corn flakes and milk in his kitchen.

“Well, well, well,” he called across the fence, sizing up my chef’s hat and get-up.

“A little garden barbecue,” I explained to him.

“Hmmff,” he said, setting himself with his paper.

“Full of his evening corn flakes,” I murmured to Jim.

The next item on the agenda was preparing the fire. I went in and unwrapped the two big steaks. They were superb. Beautiful deep red, with little flecks of fat through the lean. The fat mellow white. They were a good two inches thick.

I left them on the table where Rusty, Jim’s Irish water spaniel, couldn’t reach them; and carried the charcoal bag out to the garden. I made a small kindling bed of paper and small sticks, and poured the charcoal over it. From underneath, I ignited the paper. In a moment, the kindling caught, and in no time at all the fire had taken hold of the adjoining chunks of charcoal. And it began to spread rapidly.

“Jim,” I commanded, “go in and put the coffee pot on.”

“How long will it take to broil them?” Jim asked.

“Get the coffee started,” I ordered,

By the time he had returned the brazier was a humming mass of bluish flames from the charcoal, with a hint of the cherry red that was to come.

Whetting the Appetite

Jim came and watched as the charcoal slowly grew in fury. I didn’t fan it. The holes underneath and along the sides of the pan drew all the pressure needed for a steadily mounting glow.

“Put them on now?” asked Jim.

“Sit down,” I explained. “You’re the audience. You should be relaxed and enjoying the show.”

I went in and inspected the steaks. I trimmed off almost all the fat, although the butcher, when he trimmed off the porterhouse tails for me, had taken most of the fat. But the instructions I had read said that very little fat should be left on.

I lifted the lid of the salad pot and the salad was crisp and cold. I carried out the plates and cups.

“It’s bright red now,” warned Jim.

I inspected the charcoal.

“You’ve got to let a little sort of gray film come on the top of the red, before it’s perfect for broiling,” l informed him.

Jim swallowed eagerly.

“Jim,” I announced, “a steak broiled over charcoal is unparalleled in the realm of food. No other kind of cooking can even remotely compare with it.”

“Harrummph,” said the neighbor next door, shaking his newspaper testily and shifting his position away from us.

So I talked lower.

“There is something about charcoal,” I went on, “that seems to transmit a special flavor, a special zest, to the taste of the meat.”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” groaned Jim.

“It cooks the steak,” I explained further “without changing the lovely rare quality of the fibres. It has a kind of charred crust on the outside and inside …”

“Listen,” barked Jim, “are you going to cook the steaks or are you going to gas all night …?”

I examined the fire. The bed of cherry red charcoal was a solid bank of shimmering, quivering coals five inches deep. And on top, I could detect the first faint shadow of a gray film…

I hopped smartly into the kitchen and got the two huge steaks. One draped over each hand, I marched down the back steps.

The neighbor, squinting, I could see, around the corner of his newspaper, gave the paper another shake and turned farther away than ever.

Jim stood up as the steaks passed him, the way he would stand up for royalty. He came and watched me as I laid each steak, with the aid of the big fork that came with the outfit, on top of the grill.

As I set it on the sizzling hot grill, a blare of flame leaped up from the charcoal. This was the fat instantly melting and taking fire. Those pure fat flames seared the meat.

“Now you see,” I explained, as the aroma lifted around us, “why they cut off nearly all the fat. You don’t want too much flame…”

“Turn them over, turn them over,” cried Jim, anxiously.

“Stand back, Jim,” I warned. “Sit down. Relax. I am doing this job.”

“But turn them,” begged Jim, sitting down. “Turn them quickly to seal both sides…”

“You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried,” I informed him, as I stood guard with the fork.

“You turn a steak only once when you are broiling it! Only once! You leave those steaks over the charcoal until you can see the transparent bubbles of fat forming on the raw top. THEN you turn them. But just once.”

Jim was scrunching down in the chair to peek under the grill.

“But,” he expostulated, “they’ll be black as soot on the bottom…”

“They’ll have a black crust on both sides, my boy,” I assured him. “And that’s the way they should be.”

Jim got out of his chair.

“Sit down,” I warned.

Down Wind

“I just want to get down wind from them,” explained Jim, “so I won’t waste any of that aroma.”

He got down wind from the broiler and stood, his head back, slowly breathing in the almost indescribably heavenly odor of the broiling steaks.

The neighbor was down wind too, and as I looked at Jim, I could see the neighbor slowly shifting and fanning his newspaper so as to waft as much as possible of it his way. Rusty, Jim’s spaniel, got down wind too and started softly whining and whimpering. Two cats came from different directions and sat on the fences at a respectful distance.

“Don’t you salt them?” asked Jim earnestly.

“Never,” I informed him. “Salt would draw the juices. You salt them when I put them on the plate.”

The neighbor got up and pretended to be studying the perennials along the fence. I could easily see that what he was really doing was shifting his position to get into the best breeze to smell that ravishing odor.

“Smells good?” I called to him friendly.

“Eh?” he said, glancing up. “Oh, yeah. That’s a nice smell…”

Jim shifted, so as to stand between the steaks and the neighbor. He didn’t want to share the perfume any more than he could help.

“Can’t you see transparent bubbles yet?” Jim demanded anxiously.

As a matter of fact, I could. The sizzling steaks were crisp around the edges and you could observe small bubbles and grains of fat beginning to ooze up through the red surface.

“Get the coffee, and the salad, Jim,” I announced.

Jim went and brought the coffee pot and the tin pot containing the green salad.

“Whooeeeee!” went a siren unexpectedly close.

“Hello?” said Jim.

“WHHOOOOEEEEEE!” screamed the siren, and we could hear the screech of giant tires.

“WHHOOOOEEEE!” whooped the siren, and out the side drive, we could see the fire reels coming to a furious stop.

“Fire!” yelled the neighbor, leaping up and heading out the drive.

“See what it is, Jim,” I ordered angrily, for the steaks were just ready to turn.

Jim laid down the coffee and salad and ran out the drive.

“It’s just across the street,” he yelled back. “The minister’s house, I think …!”

I took an instant and turned the steaks. I set them true on the grill. There was another burst of blaze as the released fat seared up under the meat.

Then I too ran out the drive. For you can’t have a fire almost next door without taking a neighborly interest.

It WAS the minister’s house. As a matter of fact, all it was was the ironing board on fire in the kitchen. The minister is a summer bachelor too, and he was trying to iron those little white tabs ministers wear under their chins when they are dressed up for the pulpit. He had laid the electric iron down for a minute…

Without a Trace

All the neighborhood crowded around and it took five minutes to express the proper condolences to our good friend. And then Jim and I broke away and hurried across to the garden.

“They’ll be just about done,” I assured.

Jim was a little ahead of me as we rounded the corner of the house.

He stopped so suddenly I bumped into him.

“Gone!” he whispered.

“GONE!” he roared.

The brazier stood there, redly, grayly glowing.

The chairs, the table, with the coffee pot, the salad pot, everything, just as we had left it.

But the two steaks, the TWO steaks, the great succulent, sweet smelling porterhouse steaks, were gone.

I whipped around to look for Rusty, Rusty was still across the road with the firemen.

I whipped the other way and looked over the fence.

The neighbor was gone. His chair was there. The newspaper lay on the grass, where he had flung it.

“Jim,” I gritted.

We strode out and looked across at the crowd around the fire reels.

“Go and see if he’s at the back with the minister,” I commanded.

Jim hurried across the road.

I went and made a rapid search of the hedges, the shrubbery. There were no footprints, no traces.

The two cats still sat, eyes closed, purring on the distant fences.

I heard Jim’s footsteps returning.

“No sign of him over there,” said Jim in a low voice.

I snatched off my chef’s hat. I yanked off the apron.

“What are you going to do?” inquired Jim hastily.

“I’m going in and ask him for our steaks!” I hissed.

“You can’t do that…” protested Jim. “You can’t accuse a man of stealing…”

“He’s got ’em,” I gritted. “He’s got ’em! Did you see the way he was sniffing and trembling when I was cooking them…?”

“Go and rap on his door,” said Jim, “and merely ask him if he saw anybody around the garden…”

I did so. I rapped. I rang. Nobody answered. The door was open and I was tempted to tiptoe in. I called. I rang and rapped.

No answer.

I stuck my nose in the doorway and sniffed.

But even if there were any telltale odor, I had lost the power to smell it from standing over those steaks for so long.

“Let’s sit and wait,” suggested Jim, when I came back.

“It’s too late to buy another couple of steaks,” I reflected.

So we sat and waited. No sign of the neighbor.

Dusk came. Jim and I nibbled the salad. We had a cup of coolish coffee.

Dark fell. No sign of the neighbor.

“Well,” said Jim at length, “I’m starved. I’m simply weak from starvation. So let’s…”

So we went up to the nearest neighborhood quick-and-dirty and had fried eggs and bacon.

And when we got back home, the neighbor’s house was all closed up, chair folded away, newspaper picked up, and a soft low light glowing in an upstairs bedroom.

But mind you; it is purely circumstantial.


Editor’s Note: Backyard barbeques were a new invention after World War Two, hence Jim not knowing what it was. Of course, cooking over fire or charcoal was nothing new, nor was barbeque in general. But up until then, barbeques were usually fixed things, that you would do at campsites or picnics. The idea of a small, portable barbeque that you could have in your backyard was new.

“Please, Mister!”

In my hand, I could feel its tiny little spickles of claws tickling.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 6, 1946.

“What’s that?” interrupted Jimmie Frise.

“It’s a cat,” I informed him.

“I thought you disliked cats,” said Jim.

“I certainly do,” I stated. “Of all the creepy, sly, cruel…”

“Well, what’s a cat doing in your house?” demanded Jim.

“It’s not in the house,” I assured him. “It’s out in the side alley.” We listened. A cat meowed.

“That’s in the house!” insisted Jim.

“No, it’s out in the side drive,” I said easily. “No cat would ever get into this house. Nobody’d let it in. Cats know I hate them. I don’t think a cat has ever been in my house.”

“It’s a lifelong prejudice, eh?” said Jim.

“Maybe there’s some psychological mixup in my feeling about cats,” I mused. “But ever since I can remember, I’ve had a creepy feeling about cats. I have no sympathy for them at all. No feeling, except one of deep repugnance. Lots of my friends and relatives have cats. But I’m so uncomfortable with a cat in the room, everybody I know always sends the cat out when I’m expected.”

“What a fussy old pot you are!” scoffed Jim.

“Look,” I demanded, “can I help how I feel about things? Am I responsible for what I feel? This feeling was born in me.”

“Haven’t you any free will?” inquired Jim. “Do you just go through life wearing all the hates and prejudices you were born with? Don’t you feel free to figure things out for yourself?”

“Some things, Jim,” I submitted, “are too deep in people’s natures to be extracted by mere thinking.” The cat meowed again.

“Darn that cat!” I said, getting up nervously, and rapping warningly on the window over the side drive.

“Mmmmm,” observed Jim, “you ARE a cat hater.”

“There may be some psychological basis for it,” I offered. “They tell me that when I was a small baby, we owned a white cat – a beautiful gorgeous snow-white tomcat. It was very fond of me and I was immensely fond of it, so they say. It used to sleep in my carriage, and when I began to walk, I used to carry the cat all over, sort of bent in the belly the way a baby carries a cat; and I used to hold it by the tail and otherwise abuse it. But it never protested. We were inseparable companions, so the story goes. Then one day, somebody poisoned my beautiful white cat. I was only about two years old and I don’t remember any of this. But it seems I found my lovely white cat stiff and dead at the foot of the garden. Nobody knows how long I tried to get the cat to wake up and play. At any rate, I came staggering into the kitchen carrying the stiff white cat in my arms. Doubtless there was a scene! Doubtless my mother screamed. Doubtless they snatched my poor white cat from me…”

“Nobody will ever know,” agreed Jimmie, “what happens to the mind, ideas and prejudices of a little child before he is able to think.”

“I have the feeling,” I declared, that the incident of my white cat has something to do with my lifelong abhorrence of cats. I bet half the blind prejudices in this world are based on some queer, incomprehensible happening in a child’s life, before he had the power to understand.”

The Boogie-Man Stories

“Maybe,” suggested Jimmie, “our hostility to Russians and their hostility to us – maybe our feeling about all foreigners, maybe the queer, insurmountable prejudice we feel against people of another color than ours…”

“Possibly all,” I agreed, “based on boogie-man stories we were told as little, scared children. The Russians tell boogie-man stories. So do we. So do all nations on earth. The quickest way to scare a little child into obedience is to tell him a boogie-man story.”

“To create a real good boogie-man,” I submitted, “you have to make him different in all respects from the people around the neighborhood. Thus, when we grow up, it never occurs to us that, perhaps, our worst enemies are people we see every day. We always suspect a foreigner.”

“The Russians,” agreed Jim,” probably have better boogie-men than any of us. For remember, all Russians 20 to 30 years of age now, were told stories in childhood about the fierce boogie-men all around them. They were hemmed in with boogie-men. It was the terrible British, German, American and French boogie-men who were trying to starve them to death, in 1926 to 1930. Remember? When a little Russian kid cried for more food, how did the mother explain it? Why, she told the little baby about the terrible boogie-men all over the world, who would have no truck or trade with Russia. Our prime minister, in those days Mr. Bennett, said: ‘No truck or trade with Russia.’ So did everybody else. All the world. We were busy, in those days, trying to cure Russia of her wicked ways. So when a Russian mother told the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk to her babies, she didn’t say:

‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,

I smell the blood

of an Englishmun!’

“She had the terrible giant say:

‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,

No truck or trade

With Russia!'”

“Jim,” I submitted, “you may have something there. When we grow up, we never look for boogie-men at home. We always look for them abroad. What we’ve got to do is look for boogie-men both at home and abroad.”

“Or else,” suggested Jim, “stop telling children boogie-men stories.”

“Ah, you can’t do that, Jim,” I sighed.

“You’ve got all the tired mothers of the world against you there. Children are unmanageable little brats. When the mother’s patience has reached its limits, there is nothing for her to do but scare the kids with a boogie-man story. It’s the same with the governing class in all nations. When they can’t manage the people any longer, they tell them boogie-man stories and scare them into behaving.”

“Meee-Ow!” said the cat.

“Hist!” hissed Jim.

“Meee-OW!” said the cat.

“By golly, Jim!” I cried, leaping up. “That cat IS in the house!”

“I told you so,” said Jim.

My hair began to prickle and stand on end.

“Listen!” I commanded. And in a moment in the silence, we both heard the long drawn “meeow” of a cat, right under our feet.

“It’s in the cellar!” I shouted, “Come on, get it out of there!”

We raced down cellar and I switched on the lights. Immediately, I saw what had happened. The coal men had left the cellar window open when they delivered the last ton.

“The window, Jim,” I pointed.

“Where’s the cat?” Jim asked.

“It probably went out when it heard me coming,” I said.

But it hadn’t. From under the work bench came a soft, meek, creepy, pewly-mewly little mew.

“Yahhh!” I shouted, seizing a furnace shovel.

“Mew!” said the cat, in that sweety, Itty-bitty style.

“Scat!” I roared, clattering the shovel on the concrete.

But the cat did not move. “Meeeee-ew?” it said, with that sneaky questioning tone a cat can adopt.

A Whole Batch

Jim was down peering under the work bench.

“Saaaayyy!” gloated Jimmie. “You’ve got a whole batch of cats. She’s made a nest here, in the basket…”

“Awfft!” I protested vehemently.

“Come and see them,” pleaded Jim. “Aw, look, the tiny darlings, they haven’t got their eyes open…”

“Get them out of there,” I cried. “Chuck them out the window, the way they came in…”

“What!” roared Jim. “Do you mean to say you’d throw these baby kittens out into the cold world… a mother, honoring your house by selecting it for her nest for these tiny innocent…?”

“Yah, some alley cat!” I grated, standing well back where I couldn’t see them. “Some alley cat, sneaking in my cellar window…”

Jim reached into the shadows and brought out, on the palm of his hand, a little fuzzy ball, not as big as an egg. I looked away. I looked back. The fuzzy ball lay perfectly still on Jim’s hand. Then I slowly stirred. It cuddled down into Jim’s cupped palm.

“Put it back!” I commanded. “I’ll take the basket out…”

“Now, just a minute,” asserted Jim firmly. “After all, these are somebody’s kittens. This is somebody’s cat. You’ve got no right to treat somebody’s cat…”

“Why don’t they look after their darn cat?” I demanded angrily.

“Maybe she was caught unawares,” pleaded Jim. “Maybe she is a young cat and these are her first babies and she didn’t know what to do when the magic hour came to her. Maybe she was locked out of her own home by accident. Maybe the family was at the movies. She had to find a nest and maybe she had to find it terribly soon. So she went frantically up and down the street, in all the side drives, hunting for a dry, warm place…”

I went over and looked stiffly down.

“And by heaven’s grace,” Jim continued, “she found your cellar window open, and she came in, breathing prayers of gratitude, and found this basket, with old clothes in it…”

I could make out the curled figure of the cat. Her head was turned down, as though she were murmuring to a baby. She looked up at me, with wide, surprised topaz eyes that caught the cellar light. She opened her mouth in a soundless “meow.”

“How many are there?” I demanded grimly.

Jim, with soothing sounds, pawed in around the cat. “Six,” he said.

“Let me see them,” I requested coldly.

Jim lifted the mother cat out on to the floor, and revealed a solid fluffy mass, about the size of a handful of feathers. As I watched, the mass slowly pulsated and seemed to move. Tiny paws and miniature legs reached out and shoved. I suppose everybody should see a cat when it is newborn. I knelt down.

The mother came and rubbed against my leg. Her tail, sticking straight up, almost brushed my chin.

“Scat!” I said, recoiling.

“Well, what are you going to do?” inquired Jim pleasantly,

“Will you take them, Jim?” I retorted. “You like cats.”

“We’ve got two cats already,” said Jim. “And Rusty.”

Rusty, who had been asleep upstairs, came down. He examined the cat and the kittens with discreet interest.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” I said, very practically. “I’ll take them around the neighborhood, in the basket. I’ll ask everybody around here, and somebody will surely know whose cat she is. And I will then present the rightful owner with his property.”

“And suppose you don’t find them?” asked Jim. “After all, cats stray far and wide.”

“Then,” I said, “in that case, I’ll do what sensible people have been doing from time Immemorial. I’ll drown the kittens in a pail of water and turn the cat out to find her way home.”

“I guess that’s practical,” agreed Jimmie. “Everybody drowns kittens. The best of people. Not cat haters. Cat lovers. They drown surplus kittens.”

“Okay, before it gets dark,” I said, “let’s go round the block.”

The cat got back in the basket and I carried her and her invisible babies upstairs while we got our coats on. Then we went out and started our calls. I asked all the kids of the neighborhood if they recognized the cat. Or course, they all wanted to see the kittens, and I had to keep taking the mother out and putting her back, while dozens of kids pleaded for me to give them one of the kittens. I had to explain that a kitten has to have its mother for a few weeks.

Several of the kids gave us wrong steers, and we called at houses completely round the block once. But nobody recognized the cat. And everybody thought the family scene was just adorable. One lady wanted to adopt the whole family on the spot.

“Give her the basket!” muttered Jim, urgently.

But I did not. After all, this cat was somebody’s property. It was my duty find the rightful owner. And anyway, the more you looked into that basket, the queerer you felt. After all these years…

When we had made one complete round of the block, I decided I had done my duty. We went back to my house and down into the cellar.

“Drown the Weakest First”

“Ah, well….” sighed Jimmie, philosophically. And he got a pall under the laundry tubs and I heard him running it full. I set the basket on the stairs and the mother got out and looked at me with that surprised topaz gaze. She rubbed against my leg. I gave her a cautious, slow stroke of my hand. Gosh, how soft! Not mushy. Soft!

I could hear her bubbling. Not purring.

Jim came back and set the pail before me. He picked up the basket, sorted over the kittens and picked one out.

“First the worst,” he said. “Second the same. Drown the weakest one first.”

In my hand, I could feel its tiny little spickles of claws tickling. It wobbled, it half stood up on Its front legs, then collapsed. Its eyes were tiny bluish bulges under its skin.

“Go ahead,” said Jim, picking out another one, and holding it ready in his palm.

The kitten on my hand started turning round and round, as if seeking something. Its little legs and paws pushed and strained. It fell on its ear, against my thumb. It was softer than anything I had ever felt.

“I wish…” I said a little hoarsely, “I wish it was white.”

“That’s the weakest one,” explained Jim. “It’s a poor specimen, just a runt. I say you drown the weakest first, eh?”

The mother cat, seeing the pail of water, got up on her hind legs and curled a tiny, pink tongue down into the water and lapped. I never saw anything so dainty as that wisp of tongue flicking…

“I could advertise,” I submitted. “I could advertise, and the owner would pay for the ad…”

“It would be a lot of trouble,” declared Jim.

“Well, anyway,” I concluded, putting the weakest kitten back in the ball of fur in the basket, “if I keep them a few weeks, just until they are old enough to give away, all I’d have to do would be to go over and stand in front of the school at 3.30, and it wouldn’t be two minutes before all six of them would have a good home…”

“How about taking them back,” asked Jim, “to that lady around the block who wanted to adopt the whole basketful?”

“Yeah,” I said, “and have her drown all but the one she wanted to keep!”

“Well, then,” said Jim, “in that case, you’d better go and get the mother a saucer of warm milk…”

Which we did.

And then Jim and I went back upstairs and continued our debate on the effects of boogie-men on the childhood of the world.


Editor’s Notes: This story may have upset a few people looking at it with modern eyes, but it was common in the past to kill unwanted kittens or puppies. There was no spaying or neutering, and no other way to control the population. I mentioned in a previous post that people did not worry about controlling pets (dogs and cats would be let loose outside to run wild). So drowning puppies or kittens was not considered a big deal, just practical.

Greg would mention the story of his cat when he was a toddler in the future as well, so I suspect it is true.

This is another example where I have the colour image, and you can see how much more expressive it is compared to the microfilmed copy at the end.

There were three lines where they discussed boogie-men in other countries that I have removed due to racist references that added nothing to the story. My thoughts about racism and stereotypes in Greg and Jim’s work are indicated here.

Thumbs Down!

March 9, 1946

The Unbelievers

February 9, 1946

The Weather Prophet

December 14, 1946

One Sure Thing

I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And, glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 19, 1946

“Your prejudices,” declared Jimmie Frise, “are costing you money!”

“I’m willing to pay,” I retorted, “for my principles.”

“Look,” pleaded Jim, “it’s a sure thing.”

“In this life,” I countered, “nothing is sure.”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jimmie. “I tell you we can pay for the winter’s coal with this race. It’s the end of the racing season. All kinds of long shots come home at the end of the racing season. It’s the time for trainers and jockeys and horse owners to balance the budget.”

“You mean,” I sneered, “that racing is crooked…!”

“No sport on earth is as rigidly policed as horse-racing,” replied Jim hotly. There’s a continent-wide organization that embraces every track and every breeder and every angle of the horse-racing game and it is devoted to keeping horse-racing on the level….”

“Okay,” I scoffed, “then how about these benefit races, for balancing the budget?”

“At the end of the season,” said Jim picking his words carefully, “there is a sort of devil-may-care spirit that enters the sport. Trainers who have been nursing their horses along, so as not to overtax them, allow them to go full out in one last fling. Jockeys who are cautious riders suddenly became inspired with the spirit of the end of the season and ride with an abandoned quality that upsets all the calculations of trainers, other jockeys and all the dopesters who do the adding up.”

“Adding up?” I inquired.

“Sure,” said Jim. “How do you suppose the experts pick the winners? Simply by adding up all the factors that go into the race; the condition and past performance of the horse; the trainer; and the jockey. But at the end of the season, all these factors are muddled up by this sort of last-fling spirit. Nobody knows what horse is going to win.”

“Nobody but you!” I laughed.

“More long shots come through this week,” insisted Jim, “than at any other season.”

“Because nobody can pick the winner,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” agreed Jim.

“Then how do you know you’ve got a sure thing?” I triumphed.

“This horse, Schnitzler,” stated Jim flatly, “has been running second and third all season. Why? Because his trainer has been ordering the jockeys to ride him easy and let him develop himself. No forcing. The trainer figures, from Schnitzler’s pedigree, that he is a horse that develops slowly but steadily instead of one of those flash performers that is all through before he’s four years old.”

To Balance the Budget

“It’s all Dutch to me,” I interrupted. “Jim, look. I just don’t care for racing. It’s like stamp collecting. Either you like it or you don’t like it.”

“Schnitzler,” said Jim slowly, “is going to win today in the fourth race. And it’s going to pay 30 to 1.”

“You mean.” I asked, “that for a $2 ticket, he’d pay $30?”

“For a $10 ticket,” said Jim in a low, vibrant voice, “he’d pay … THREE… HUNDRED … DOLLARS!”

“Aw, Jim,” I pleaded, trying to wake him from the trance, “how do you know? What facts have you got to justify this fixation that’s got you, like some sort of lunacy…?”

“I,” said Jim, still in that low intense voice, “know the trainer, I know the jockey and… I know the horse!”

“Ah,” I said, “so you’ve bet on him before?”

“I bet on him all through the season,” admitted Jim.

“But he always came second or third?” I inquired.

“And I always bet him on the nose,” said Jim.

“And you’re going to bet him today again, on his last race of the season?” I demanded.

“The budget,” said Jim with that faraway look that hypnotized race fans wear, “the budget is just about to be balanced.”

“Tomorrow maybe,” I sighed, “you’ll wake up. Ten or fifteen dollars poorer…”

“I’ll have the money,” said Jim, with certainty, “for the winter’s coal.”

All this was at 10 o’clock in the morning.

At 1 o’clock, Jim appeared at the office door with his hat on.

“Coming?” he said heartily.

“I…” I said.

It was a beautiful day. Too beautiful to sit alone in an office pecking at a typewriter.

“Well,” I chuckled, “I might as well go, if for no other reason than to watch the expression on your face as all these castles in the air come tumbling down…”

So we drove out to the track in the lovely Indian summer afternoon and once again I found myself in that completely alien atmosphere of the race-track, surrounded by thousands of people all concentrated on a sport that leaves me cold. I never feel so completely a stranger on this earth as at the race-track. Sometimes I feel all these thousands are queer. And then, suddenly, I feel a little queer myself.

We got into the grandstand where Jimmie seemed to know everybody by their first name. It was like a club. Very chummy. Full of a lingo of its own. I began to feel queer.

These race meetings are something like a symphony concert. Each race is like a number on the program. Each number builds up, like a symphony, to a familiar climax. The first race, there was the usual tuning up, as the horses were walked to the starting post. Then the intense gathering up of feelings and emotions as the horses prepared for the start. That would be like the fine string music of the symphony. Then, suddenly, like the brass and woodwinds of the orchestra letting loose, the start! Then a kind of gathering pandemonium, as the orchestra of these thousands of fans swelled and rose to a crescendo that ended as climactically and violently as a Beethoven symphony …

Jim’s horse lost. He also lost the second race, and the third.

He asked me to come under the grandstand for a cup of coffee and while we were drinking the coffee, he asked me if I had any money.

“I never bring money to a race-track, Jim,” I informed him. “You know that. I have my principles. And I safeguard them.”

“Haven’t you got even five bucks?” pleaded Jim.

“I haven’t got even five bucks,” I replied firmly, fondling the $10 in $1 bills I had in my left-hand pants pocket.

Jim looked desperately around.

Meant For a Killing

“Look here,” I said sternly, “didn’t you say this horse Schnitzel or whatever it is ran in the fourth race?”

“Yes,” gritted Jim. “And I want to put 10 bucks on him. But that last race, the brother of one of the jockeys gave me a hundred to one chance on that horse I bet …”

“I see,” I said, amused. “Sure things all over the place!”

“I was going to make enough to put maybe 30 or 40 bucks on Schnitzler,” pleaded Jim. “But now I’ve only got four bucks left. Do you see anybody you know that you could borrow a few bucks…”

“I certainly do not!” I stated sharply.

“Six bucks,” muttered Jim bitterly. “Six bucks, six measly bucks. Take a walk around and see if there’s anybody you …”

“My friends,” I stated, “are not to be found around race-tracks. Why don’t you make a touch on any one of those sportsmen surrounding you up in the grandstand? You call each other by your first names…”

“I…I…” said Jim anxiously.

We finished the coffee and walked out on to the lawn.

Jim was acting like an expectant father. He was breathing big deep breaths, biting his teeth together, putting his hands deep in his pockets and pulling them out again. He looked at his four dollars several times. And he kept his eyes on the clock. All around us, the eager swarms were reading their programs with fatuous expressions. Already the procession towards the betting enclosure had begun.

“Hello, Mr. Clark,” came a pleasant voice.

I turned and recognized one of my neighbors from up the street.

“Why, how do you do!” I replied heartily. “Are you a follower of the sport of kings?”

“Oh, I usually come out for a few races,” said my neighbor, whom I had always taken for a deacon at least.

Jimmie was gripping my elbow and squeezing it meaningfully. I shook my arm free.

“How have you done?” asked the neighbor.

“Oh, I don’t …” I began.

But Jimmie, linking his arm through mine to show we were buddies, broke in: “As a matter of fact,” he said, “my little friend here has been cleaned in the last three races. And he’s trying to borrow six bucks off me…”

“I am not!” I cut in indignantly, but Jim got a Judo hold on my funnybone that almost made me screech with pain.

“Six bucks is all he wants,” cried Jim jovially. “But one of my superstitions is, never lend money to the guy you came to the races with. It’s okay to borrow from anybody else. But NOT the guy you came with …”

“Why,” laughed my neighbor, reaching into his pocket.

“Not…” I began but again Jim, laughing jovially, gave my elbow such a horrible dig with his digits that I felt myself wilting And at the same instant, he reached out and took the $6 my neighbor was holding out, and stuffed them playfully, in my breast pocket.

“There you are! Come on,” he chuckled, “come on and let’s place the bet…”

And before the slightly puzzled gaze of my neighbor, he swung me around and started up the lawn.

At the same instant. I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders. And we were both being propelled forward at a rate that kept our feet trotting smartly to keep us from falling.

I struggled.

“Here, what the dickens are …” I shouted.

But the two of us, side by side, were hustled through the crowd, up the lawn, out the side entrance past the grandstand and towards the gate.

In the privacy of the entrance, the big men relaxed their shoving. I shook myself.

“Will you inform me,” I demanded, setting my hat back on straight, “will you inform me the meaning this outrage!”

“Okay, bud,” said my man, dusting his hands. “Okay, scram!”

The whole thing was incomprehensible, bewildering. Out-of-place though I feel at a race-track, this was too much.

“I’ll call the police!” I grated, readjusting my clothing.

“Heh, heh, heh,” said both the large men.

“Look,” said Jimmie, who was pale as Swiss cheese, “look, boys, you’re making a mistake. My friend was only …”

“Aw, stow it, bud,” said the one with the black hat, “now scram. We seen the whole transaction. We seen you approach the gent. We seen you pass the tip. We seen you accept the money …”

“Jim!” I commanded. “What is this all about?”

“These are the Pinkerton men,” explained Jim pleasantly. “They watch out for touts and hangers-on. They have mistaken us for touts…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” agreed the two large men, preparing to shove us right out the gate. “If we ever saw a tout, this little guy is the champeen. Come on now! OUT!”

“Too Late”

And before I could even go of my own volition, the big fellow in the brown hat took me by the back of the coat collar and the pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

Jim followed.

And the two large men walked businesslike back into the grounds.

“But the race, the race!” suddenly yelled Jimmie, snatching the $6 from my breast pocket and adding it feverishly to his $4. “We’ve got to get this on the race …”

“Jim,” I ordered loudly, “I came here as an innocent spectator. I have been treated to every indignity…”

A bugle blew.

“Too late, too late!” moaned Jimmie, leaning against the fence, a broken man.

We stood there. We heard the silence fall. The slow, muttering silence. Then we heard the wild horse roar … “They’re off!” Then we listened to the rising symphony of the roaring grandstands. Then a mad cheer.

Out the gates poured the little dribble of people who always quits after the fourth, or fifth, or sixth race.

“Who won?” croaked Jimmie, seizing one of them by the lapels.

“A horse named Schnitzler,” said the passer-by disgustedly. “Paid 30 to 1.”

Jim crumpled beside the fence and sat, huddled, counting the $10 in his hands.

I ran my left hand cautiously into my pants pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

“Okay, Jim,” I croaked too. “Let’s go and get the car and go home.”


Editor’s Notes: As noted before, Jim was the gambler of the two, who would participate in activities like attending the race track and pool halls that Greg would not. Greg was more of a follower of his Victorian upbringing. Jim was hoping for enough money to pay for all of his coal needed for a coal furnace for the upcoming winter.

Touts at race tracks were people who offered racing tips for a share of any resulting winnings.

Pinkerton men were a generic definition for private detectives. In this case they would have been hired by the race track to root out undesirables.

Down and Under!

September 7, 1946

This is the Life!

July 6, 1946

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